trekwriter151: (TnT)
[personal profile] trekwriter151
Notes: This chapter is mostly focused on Carlo and Paola. Archer and the others publicly reveal Kosso's schemes, but Kosso has a way to redeem himself, and it entangles Carlo.

Italian: mi amorato(a)/mi amo=my beloved=t'hy'la

D'Alberi=of the trees=Forest=Forrest. Actor Vaughn Armstrong is also a musician, who plays the ukelele at conventions.

Code duello= A set of rules for a one-on-one duel, to settle grievances. The Renaissance period was fraught with honor duels. It can be issued in the case of a (perceived) insult. The injured party issues a challenge to the person who insulted them. The one receiving the challenge can either a) apologize publicly or b) accept the duel. He is the one who chooses the weaponry (usually swords, until the 17th century). The issuee chooses the time and place of the duel.

Each combatant chooses a second, and the fight lasts until they can no longer fight, or a doctor calls a halt to the combat. Although duels to the death were rare, they often ended in death because of wound infection. The winner of the duel is considered to be 'in the right'. The winner can earn social standing in the eyes of his peers, depending on how he fought.

Closely related to this is trial by combat, to settle guilt or innocence of a crime. The rules are similar, and the winner is considered the innocent party. Kosso is entitled to this option, if he chooses to exercise it.

Paola flexed her aching fingers and looked up from her sewing. Her eyes burned with lack of sleep and unshed tears. Her trousseau was progressing nicely. A pair of dainty gloves in blue silk, with tiny sapphires sewn at the wrists. The matching satin gown, with gold at every hem, a veil of ivory lace and a gold camiccia underneath. The Venetian usury laws forbade clothing deemed 'too elaborate', which meant multi-colored sleeves and skirts were forbidden.

She got around that particular ban by slashing the sleeves in precise diagonal patterns, which revealed the gold camiccia under the blue. It matched the gold headband and the large cut sapphire at the neck, anchored by gold chains.

Again, she wondered when she would be able to wear these. Lady Eriana claimed it was to focus Kosso's attention elsewhere, but why create such beautiful clothing if she would never wear it?

“Lady Eriana has been keeping you busy, I see. This is beautiful, Paola. You'd told me you designed clothing in Milan, but I had no idea how elaborate your work was.”

Her head shot up at the unexpected voice. Carlo leaned in the doorway of the salon, a smile on his face. The dark shadows under his eyes told her that she wasn't the only one with lack of sleep. He looked so tired, but his entire face lit up at the sight of her.

“Carlo!” She secured her needle and thread, and got to her feet. Her first impulse was to throw her arms around his neck, and she barely refrained herself. He slid his arms around her and held her close. Paola closed her eyes and savored this, if only for a few moments.

“It won't be for much longer, Paola. Kosso's formal announcement will be tomorrow afternoon, and we will be ready.” He tightened his grip on her. “You're trembling.”

“I—I wish for all this to be over. I wish for Kosso to go away and never come back. I wish--” She bit her lip to stop her rambling.
He nodded, but didn't let her go. “Just a little while longer, Paola. I promise. I can't imagine how this has stretched your nerves and taxed your mind.”

Carlo's kind words threatened to break her already-strained calm. No man had ever taken her own feelings under consideration; it simply wasn't done in their society. At least, that had been Paola's observation. This new experience was overwhelming, to say the least.
He slid a hand under her chin and tilted her head so she looked up at him. An unspoken fear rose up in her throat. “Kosso still doesn't suspect you at all?”

“He believes I'm a loyal supporter, professionally and personally. I think he knows how precarious his position really is. Once he finds approval, he embraces it blindly.” Carlo's large frame shook with silent laughter, but she sensed little humor in it. “And blind impulse will be his undoing.”

She glanced up at the note of sad sympathy in his voice and raised an eyebrow at him. “You sound as if you feel sorry for him.”
“I understand where he comes from, but it hardly excuses his actions,” he answered firmly. “His sins are coming back to haunt him.” Carlo finally stepped back a pace, but he still didn't release her. “Come, Paola, Captain Archer wishes to speak with us.”

Captain Archer, Lady Eriana, and Captain Ramirez stood around a table in the mezzanino. A box of smooth, polished wood lay open on the table, and the trio examined its contents. The tightly wrapped bundles of paper had been carefully untied, examined, and re-tied.

“From Kosso's study,” Captain Archer answered Paola's unspoken question. “This is the evidence we sought, and now we have it.”

Her eyes widened at the implication. “Where in God's name did you find this? How did you acquire it?” She felt Carlo tense up at the question, and her eyes snapped back to him. “Carlo?”

“Kosso and I shared an evening meal. He bragged about his control over the captain's destiny, and I asked him about it. Granted, he had been heavily into the wine at the time, but I didn't expect him to show me what he possessed.” Carlo's tone was both triumphant and sad. “After his chamberlain helped him to bed, I...ah...borrowed it.”

Paola's eyebrows rose to her hairline. “Carlo!”

Eriana shook her head and passed the thin sheets to Paola. “Look, Paola: the shipping manifests, the letters, the signed agreements. It's all here, in Kosso's handwriting. He'd arranged for the weapons to be loaded onto John's ships, transported directly from rebellious factions in London, who wished to see your cousin Isabella dead. And here...letters to the Spanish ambassador's aides, to alter evidence that linked him with the plot...”

Paola went through the information, slowly and deliberately. All sympathy for Kosso froze into a hard knife of anger. He was a traitor, a murderer, a blackmailer...if this all became public--

She looked at Captain Archer, whose handsome features were cold steel. “When Kosso decides to make his public announcement tomorrow afternoon, you will present this evidence in front of the clergy, and the Council of Ten.”

“Kosso won't be able to deny the proof in his own hand. He'll be lucky if they sentence him to exile. Most likely, they'll arrest him and make sure he won't hurt anyone else ever again.” Archer shook his head. “Carlo, I know this wasn't easy for you--”

Carlo sighed and Paola tightened her grip on him. “It had to be done, Captain.”

Eriana put a comforting hand on his arm and whispered, “You had to compromise your principles to do this. I only wish it didn't have to come to this.”

He managed a smile and looked over at Archer. “I'm sure if your lieutenant were here, he'd have done the same thing. If it means freeing your family—and Paola—from his terror, I'd do it again.”

Archer nodded in understanding as he reclaimed the papers from Paola. “Get some rest, both of you. Captain Ramirez and I--” he inclined his head at the Spanish captain, “--still have a long night ahead of us.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Paola and Carlo went back into the hall, but then Carlo began to shake as soon as they left the mezzanino. She immediately guided him into one of the smaller rooms and bade him to sit on one of the couches. Her heart ached for him; he was such a gentle soul, and if he didn't purge this anger and guilt, it would destroy him.

His strength of character only endeared him even more in her eyes. Carlo Tocceri was more honorable than a million Niccoló Kossos. Paola knew her heart did not make a mistake when it chose him.

She wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly as the storm of emotion racked him. “Let it out, mi amorato. Let it all out now. There is no shame in this, not in front of me.”

Carlo only nodded and let the rampage loose, shaking and sobbing until the storm passed. Paola held on to him during the worst of it, murmuring, “Mi amorato,” over and over, reassuring him of her love.

Finally, he leaned back against the back of the couch, exhausted. “Mi amorata,” he whispered hoarsely. “Thank you.”

Traveo BuonTempo knew how to read people. He watched his passengers under lowered lids, as he listened to the sounds of the swirling water of the canals. The doctor, Signor Floccia, was awake and alert, even at this late hour. He sat in the gondola with his hands in his lap and looked around his surroundings with interest.

The English lieutenant sat close next to Lady Estrella, his right arm possessively around her, and his left hand resting on the firearm on his belt. Traveo winced at the bulky bandage around Reed's left shoulder; the injury looked worse than it actually was. Floccia reassured Traveo that Reed was healing well, but Traveo sensed it had been a close call.

Estrella clung to Lieutenant Reed, her head on his right shoulder. Traveo stifled a smile as he pushed the boat forward with his pole. Something had happened between them, he was sure of it. Their physical closeness, their reluctance to let go of each other...Traveo bit his tongue. It was none of his affair, though he was bursting at the seams with curiosity.

They reached the Palazzo Moretta Pisani in good time. Reed helped Estrella onto the dock as Floccia carried their supplies. Traveo watched them as he secured the gondola. Estrella moved carefully, as if something pained her, but her face was lit with some sort of otherworldly glow. Traveo nearly dropped the rope into the canal as the realization came to him.

Floccia only quirked his eyebrows at Traveo as he passed. The gondolier retrieved the rope and chuckled to himself. Il Tenente had some help in his recovery. I hope no one isn't very obvious, but...

Both Lady Eriana and Captain Archer greeted them in the mezzanino. Traveo stood near the door, near Captain Ramirez. Ramirez turned and gave Traveo a look of amused exasperation. Estrella curtsied with her usual grace, but her movements were careful. Both of Eriana's eyebrows shot up, and she glanced at her husband. Archer's mouth quirked upward in a smile, though he tried to stifle it.

“Are you well, Lady Estrella?” Eriana asked.

Estrella nodded, though her eyes sparkled in the candlelight. “I'm unharmed, Señora. Lieutenant Reed defended me against a group of thugs, and Doctors Floccia and Lucasi gave us safe haven.”

“I'm gratified to see both of you in...good health.” She glanced at Traveo. “Thank you, Traveo, for bringing them home to us. And be welcome, Doctor. We will surely be in need of your services.”

“I live to serve, Señora,” Floccia replied with a wide grin.

Captain Archer clapped Malcolm on the right shoulder. “I know you want to know the situation, Malcolm, but there will be time enough after you get some rest. We'll need you as well.”

Malcolm nodded in agreement. “Very well, sir.”

Archer's back was to the women, but from Traveo's vantage point, he saw Archer's eyes flicker towards Estrella, then back at Malcolm. A slight smile was Malcolm's only answer. The captain bent and said in a low tone, “If you hurt her, you answer to me.”

“I'll remember that, sir.”

Eriana put a hand on Estrella's arm and steered her out of the room. She shot a look at Malcolm over her shoulder as they left. If Traveo could put words to her expression, it was 'I will talk with you in private. Later.'

Despite himself, Traveo laughed quietly to himself. The lieutenant was going to get an earful from Lady Eriana in the very near future, and Traveo wished he could be a fly on the wall during that conversation.

The household rejoiced at Estrella's safe return. Paola was thrilled at her friend's homecoming, but there was a change in Estrella's demeanor. As the morning dragged on, she was sure of it. Estrella smiled more often, her dark eyes sparkled with some ethereal quality, and when the other women gossiped about love and weddings, she blushed and turned her head away. Paola knew it had to do with the English lieutenant.

Paola's observation skills had served her in good stead, but she had trouble connecting her initial impression of Estrella with what she saw now. Could it be? Has something occurred between them? The unthinkable? She tried to analyze her conflicted feelings. Estrella would never allow such a thing to happen. She is honorable, and so is he. I must be mistaken.

If Malcolm and Estrella sought to hide their love, they failed miserably. Despite her lack of sleep, Paola felt strangely alert. She approached Estrella as the women changed into their ornate dresses for Mass. It felt sacrilegious to bring up this subject at this moment, but Paola shoved aside her own misgivings.

“Estrella, are you well? Has something happened between you and Lieutenant Reed?”

Estrella started at the direct question, but covered her surprise with a brilliant smile. “He saved my life, Paola, at the risk of his own. I am grateful to him.”

It wasn't an answer, but one of the women called for Estrella's assistance, and Paola was left with more questions. Carlo mentioned it to her and asked if Estrella had said anything about it. Paola shook her head.

“I've tried to ask Malcolm what happened, but he's as quiet as a novice monk. Lady Eriana's glaring at his back when she thinks no one's looking, and Captain Archer seems amused at it all. It's puzzling to see Lady Eriana so...distressed with Malcolm, when it was sure to happen eventually.”

Paola had forgotten that Carlo was well-versed in the affairs between men and women. The thought made her cheeks warm. “Perhaps it is the timing of it all. It is...traditional to wait until the night of the wedding before such...activities are sanctioned.”

Carlo looked at her in a way that deepened her blush. “Perhaps. Stressful times tend to bring people together in ways we don't expect.”

“Indeed.” She didn't trust herself to speak further without betraying her own thoughts and desires.

By the time the church bells rang eleven o'clock over the piazza, all was set. Both Estrella and Paola helped Eriana into her formal dress. Paola's hands shook as she tied the laces of her mistress's gown.

This was the moment where they would confront Kosso with his nefarious dealings. If she could bear the curious and sympathetic stares, then she could bear anything.

“It will be all right,” Eriana whispered to her. “Have faith, Paola. We will stand by you.”

Paola had accompanied her Uncle Umbrico and Aunt Lara to Mass during her years in Milan, and it had always been a grand affair. The entire household was expected to attend the service, and that meant a small procession through the streets. Of course, Captain Archer's family was nowhere close to Sovale's in size and stature, but they still made a colorful parade as they walked to the Duomo.

Archer walked arm-in-arm with Lady Eriana, with Lieutenant Reed and Captain Ramirez close at hand. Estrella, Paola, and the rest of the women followed, with a company of soldiers bringing up the rear of the procession.

Paola stared straight ahead and ignored all the stares. As far as the rest of Venice was concerned, she was going to be betrothed to Niccoló Kosso. She prayed more fervently than ever before, in the hopes that it would not happen. She wished Carlo was at her side, but he chose to arrive at the Duomo separately, so Kosso wouldn't suspect foul play.

Cardinal Massimo d'Alberi presided over the Mass. Paola had never seen him before, but d'Alberi reminded her of a benevolent grandfather, with his thinning hair, bright blue eyes and friendly smile. The cardinal chanted in a clear tenor; obviously, he had received the best musical training while in Rome. It calmed Paola's nervousness, but didn't erase it completely.

The church was close to standing room only, as the most powerful men, and their families, were there in attendance. Paola saw Signor Cuvaccio nearby, but to her surprise, he was nowhere close to his son Kosso. Carlo stood further down the row, close to Kosso, but not directly next to him. Paola tried to keep her eyes lowered during the service, but they strayed in Carlo's direction despite her best efforts.

Finally, D'Alberi brought himself up straight and tall, like a military officer. He looked over at Kosso with a humorless smile and nodded. “Signor Kosso, I am told that you wish to state your intent to marry in front of the entire community. Is this true?”

Kosso rose up from his seat and turned in Paola's direction. She flinched under his smoldering gaze as he answered, “Yes. I wish to claim Lady Paola de Conti-Montagnari, ward of Captain John Archer and Lady Eriana Hernandez, as my wife.”

A stir went through the crowd at his words. Even D'Alberi narrowed his eyes at the phrasing of it, as more like a command than a request. The cardinal nodded at Captain Archer, who stood as well. “Are there any objections to Signor Kosso's proposal of marriage?”

Archer turned towards Kosso, and the entire congregation held its breath. His green eyes flashed dangerously as he regarded his old enemy. Kosso stared back at him, a smirk blossoming on his face.

That smirk vanished at Archer's next words.

“I am Lady Paola's guardian, and to this proposal...I say no.”

Chaos exploded in the pews as men rose to their feet in protest. Shock passed on Kosso's face, but that shock quickly turned to anger. He glared at Archer with undisguised venom.

Paola nearly fainted with relief, but she heard the rising hostility around them. Estrella put a supporting hand on her arm, and Reed put a hand on his sidearm on his belt. Cardinal D'Alberi let the chaos run for a minute, then he raised his arms.

“Enough! Be silent!” he thundered. Everyone stopped talking. D'Alberi nodded at Archer and said, “Why do you object to joining your house with Kosso's in marriage? State it publicly, for all to hear.”

Archer inclined his head and asked, “May I approach Your Grace?”

“You may, Captain.”

Archer approached the cardinal with the wooden box between his hands. Kosso's eyes bulged as he realized what Archer held. His face turned red, then white, then red again. The silence grew heavier as the cardinal accepted the box, opened it, and briefly scanned the papers within it. Archer stepped back a pace, then turned back towards Kosso with a glare that could melt iron.

D'Alberi's mouth tightened and he looked up from the papers. “This is compelling evidence, Captain Archer. If this is true, then I understand your reticence in this this matter.”

Kosso's hand gripped the saber on his belt with white knuckles. “This is a lie, Your Grace! Intrigue! Do not be misled by the jealousy of Man!” He glared at Archer, then added venomously, “He shelters heretics and misbelievers! I only wish to save Lady Paola's soul from corruption!”

His words touched off another round of shouts and demands. Estrella turned pale, and it was Paola's turn to keep her friend from a dead faint. Malcolm was about to rise to his feet, but Archer snapped, “As you were, Lieutenant!”

D'Alberi's face turned ruddy with righteous fury. “Silence!” He raised the bundles of paper for all to see. “You, whose transgressions are clear in your own dare to accuse others to divert attention from your own wicked deeds! That is unconscionable, Signor Kosso!”

His steely gaze passed over the audience, who had fallen silent once more. There was not a man who hadn't done the same and D'Alberi's warning came through loud and clear.

“Your Grace, do you believe the words of a foreign captain, the head of a foreign household, or the son of a true Milanese, who has made Venice his home?” Kosso spat. “His words are poison, and his lies unconscionable!”

Then a quiet voice came from the back of the chapel, loud in the silence. “I support Captain Archer's decision in this matter, Cardinal D'Alberi. His accusations are valid, and the evidence speaks for itself.”

Heads turned as Signor Umbrico Sovale marched up the main aisle, his clothes caked with the dust of the road, his lined face solemn with sorrow. Close behind him was Signor Cuvaccio, Kosso's father. Kosso's eyes widened in horror as he saw his own father come against him.

Cardinal d'Alberi's mouth went slack at Sovale's unexpected appearance, but he recovered his aplomb with grace. “Signor Sovale of Milan.”

“Your Grace.” Sovale knelt and kissed the ring on d'Alberi's outstretched hand. “Forgive the interruption, but I made undue haste to come here from Milan. I have earned the ire of my lady wife and my horses, but I believe the cause was sufficient.”

He rose to his feet and nodded at Cuvaccio. The older man looked upon his son with a mixture of loathing and sadness. Sovale announced, “I formally object to Signor Kosso's proposal. There will be no wedding.” He gazed at Paola and nodded to her.

“Uncle,” she whispered. The sudden grant of freedom made her dizzy and she felt herself slip sideways out of her seat. A pair of strong arms came up around her, and to her surprise, Carlo was at her side. He smiled at her and held her close. “Carlo--”

“It's over. Kosso's lost,” he whispered. “You're free.”

“Carlo, I--” She couldn't hide the surge of joy and returned his embrace. Paola didn't care that the entire nobility of Venice was there to witness it. She was free.

Cardinal D'Alberi gestured for the guards to take Kosso out of the sanctuary. Kosso shook his head and took a step back. “I protest this treatment, Your Grace. Allow me to defend my honor and my good name! Tradition must be upheld, must be kept! At least allow me this!”

“He deserves to defend himself,” added a councilor. “It is his right.”

D'Alberi raised his hand to stop the guards. Paola couldn't believe this, not when they'd achieved victory! Kosso was guilty of his crimes; what was he trying to prove?

“You wish to allow God to judge your innocence or guilt?” D'Alberi demanded.

“Yes!” Kosso glared at Carlo and pointed at him. “This man betrayed my confidence and has dared to take what is rightfully mine. He has insulted me and my honor. Let him prove his worth for her hand. I challenge him.”

Carlo slowly rose and faced Kosso. “Are you challenging me to a duel, Signor?”

“Carlo!” Paola cried. “No, don't!”

“He's issued his challenge, Paola. I have to respond to it in kind, or I'm as dishonorable has he is.”

Carlo heard the rumble of approval from the crowd, but he focused his attention on Kosso. “I will not apologize for my actions, Kosso. Let our swords...and God decide.”

“At the courtyard of Ca'Razzonico, three hours after the noon.”

“Very well. I'll be there.”

“Then it's settled. Let us see who is true and righteous in the eyes of justice!” Kosso turned and walked out of the sanctuary, with a small knot of supporters around him.

“Can't you stop this?” Eriana cried.

“The challenge has been made and accepted,” Sovale said. “It is out of our hands now.”

Malcolm shook his head and said to Carlo, “You're mad. He will kill you.”

“He's an architect, I'm an engineer and we are both gentlemen. We'll settle this once and for all, decisively, in a way that no one can object.” Carlo's tone was quiet. He looked up and met Archer's stricken expression. “With your permission, Captain?”

Archer sighed heavily and looked over at d'Alberi. The cardinal's face held sympathy and a strange sort of respect. “All right, Carlo.”

Carlo knelt at Paola's side and raised a hand to her pale cheek. She didn't cry, but she appeared in a state of shock. He gently whispered, “May I fight in your name and in your honor, Paola?”

She looked up at him and manage a trembling smile. “Of course...mi amorato. I will pray for your safety.”

“My life is yours, Paola. If I survive, will you consent to be my wife?”

Her eyes widened. “You're formally proposing? Here? Now?

“Why not?” Carlo grinned. “We're in the Duomo, in front of the community and the cardinal...why waste the opportunity?”

Paola stared wildly up at him and she wondered briefly if the situation had unseated her beloved's wits. Judging from the shocked stares of Captain Archer and Umbrico Sovale, they hadn't expected this, either. She gazed from Archer to Sovale, her eyes pleading her case. Cardinal d'Alberi sighed and shook his head with a resigned expression.

Sovale regarded Carlo with newfound respect. “If you survive, Signor, I have no objection. Your actions have proven your strength of character and inner strength. I would be honored.”

“As would I,” Archer added, “assuming you don't get yourself killed.”

Carlo squeezed Paola's hands. “I will do all I can not to, Captain. I promise.”


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May 2012

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